Bauer has the stuff to dominate, but will need to harness his control. Image: Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Top-5 Check In: Cleveland Indians

Now that we’re more than a month in to the 2013 minor league season, it’s a good time to check in on how the top prospects in each of the organizations are faring. It is way too early to get overly excited or overly depressed about anyone’s performance thus far, but it’s never too early to dig into the data and results that each prospect has added to their resume. For the purposes of these check-ins we will be using Baseball America’s rankings unless otherwise noted.

The Cleveland Indians made sweeping changes during this past off-season and while most of the efforts were focused on adding pieces to the major league roster, they added a couple of players to a thin minor league system as well. There is still much more work to be done in that arena as the Tribe has for too long neglected their farm system despite not having the deep pockets of a big market team.

As the parent club’s roster got re-stocked with veteran players for the 2013 campaign, Indians fans will have to hope this buys time for some of the talent at the lower levels of the organization to develop. There is elite talent at the top of this crop, but little in the way of depth.

1. SS- Francisco Lindor (19)

Carolina (A+) .331/.399/.466 11 2B, 4 3B, 1 HR, 11 SB, 18 BB, 17 K in 187 plate appearances

There isn’t much not to like about Lindor. A switch-hitter with a tremendous approach at the plate and a compact line-drive stroke, the eighth overall selection in the 2011 draft, Lindor has done nothing but impress as a pro and many consider him to be the second-best shortstop prospect in the game.

Lindor is an elite-level defender with great instincts both in the field and on the basepaths. It isn’t a question of if Lindor can eventually make an impact at the big league level, only a question of how soon he’ll push Asdrubal Cabrera out of the way. Despite his age, it doesn’t look like he’s very far away right now. I’d expect that 2014 is a legitimate possibility that Lindor takes over at short in Cleveland.

2. RHP- Trevor Bauer (22)

Columbus (AAA) 3.23 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 21 HA, 3 HRA, 15 BB, 33 K in 30.2 innings (5 starts)

Cleveland (MLB) 2.76 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 9 GA, 1 HRA, 15 BB, 11 K in 16.1 innings (3 starts)

Bauer has been up and down a couple of times this year already and though his ERA at the big league level is a sparkling 2.76, that number is just over half as high as his FIP of 5.23. Why the discrepancy? For starters, Bauer has had a lot of trouble limiting walks when facing major league hitters and this isn’t a new problems for him as he faced similar issues last season while with the Diamondbacks.

It’s not as if Bauer is a control artist while working in the minors, he averages better than four walks per nine innings, but he certainly appears to face some obstacles in finding the big league zone with regularity. If he can manage to harness his command somewhat, Bauer has plenty of pure stuff and could evolve into a top-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he’ll wind up leaving plenty of potential unfulfilled.

3. SS- Dorssys Paulino (18)

Lake County (A) .206/.278/.229 3 2B, 6 SB, 12 BB, 26 K in 144 plate appearances

Paulino was a heralded international signing in July of 2011 and made his domestic debut last season when he dominated Rookie League ball before collecting a handful of games in the NY/Penn League at the end of the season. Assigned to Class-A to start the 2013 campaign, Paulino has yet to find the same success at the plate he saw a season ago.

Early on, Paulino has been victimized by a low BABIP which has hampered his numbers. He’s kept his strikeout and walk rates within a respectable range, especially for a young hitter, but the alarming part has been the utter lack of extra-base pop this year. Paulino slugged .610 in the Arizona League last year. Obviously, there is quite a bit of difference between how the ball carries in the desert air of Arizona versus the early-season chill of the Midwest League, so it will be interesting to see if Paulino’s pop shows up as the Summer progresses.

4. OF- Tyler Naquin (22)

Carolina (A+) .300/.364/.459 12 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 5 SB, 15 BB, 41 K in 189 plate appearances

An accomplish college hitter, Naquin came to the Tribe as a first-round selection (15th overall) in the 2012 draft and didn’t waste time putting up solid numbers in his first taste of pro ball. He has an excellent line-drive swing and average-to-plus speed, but there is little power in his stroke and questions about his range in center field.

Naquin has shown some doubles pop early in the 2013 season and his having great success at the plate. He’s the type of hitter who could move quickly through the system given his college pedigree. If he can keep his strikeouts in check, he could wind up as a David DeJesus kind of player. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

5. RHP- Mitch Brown (19)

Lake County (A) 11.49 ERA, 2.04 WHIP, 21 HA, 4 HRA, 11 BB, 18 K in 15.2 innings (five starts)

Brown has been on the disabled list at Lake County since May 3, but prior to that he was roughed up pretty good by Midwest League hitters. In his first start of the season he failed to survive the first inning and things haven’t gone much better since. He is striking out more than a batter per inning, but his walk total is obviously far too high and that doesn’t even include the four hit batsmen and five wild pitches he’s uncorked already.

There are some indicators that Brown hasn’t been quite as bad as the numbers say. For starters, he’s allowed four home runs already, which about twice as many as could have been expected. Opponents are also getting a bit hit lucky against the right hander, posting a .395 batting average on ball in play, which is nearly 100 points higher than what is typically average. That said, it’s hard to sugarcoat what has been a very difficult start to the season.

Tags: Cleveland Indians Dorssys Paulino Francisco Lindor Mitch Brown Trevor Bauer Tyler Naquin

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